It happened today - November 10, 2015

On this day in 1775 the United States Marine Corps was born. Not especially gloriously, and not especially successfully, the “Continental Marines” being allowed to lapse in 1783 and not recreated until 1797. But despite official neglect and hostility, it has become one of the greatest and most storied fighting forces in human history.

For some reason nobody quite knew what to do with the Marines. Being a naval army or some such, they were forever being squeezed in peacetime interservice rivalries, only to rise to the occasion in times of war. Initially created for ship-to-ship fighting, they distinguished themselves against the Barbary Pirates in the early 19th century and the Mexican-American War, but were confined mostly to blockade duty and other shipboard combat in the Civil War (“tell it to the Marines” being an insult not a compliment in those days, implying lack of direct experience of war or anything else) and languished through the late 19th century before again springing into action in the Spanish-American War.

Thus they were a mainstay of America’s hasty mobilization and deployment in the latter stages of World War I, including their famous “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” stand at Belleau Wood in June 1918, officially renamed Bois de la Brigade de Marine,” and of course took on the bulk of fighting in the Pacific Theatre in World War II, becoming rather oddly a corps containing six divisions (and five air wings). Despite hostility from Harry Truman (who sneeringly dismissed it as “nothing but a police force” shortly before the brilliant Inchon landing, and an attempt by Congress to abolish the Corps entirely, they were again called on to respond quickly in Korea and again did so, and have been a key part of America’s many mobile wars since.

Like the rest of the U.S. military, they have been overworked and underfunded lately. But their historical resilience will no doubt see them through this crisis too, as presidents far more keen to use force than to prepare for it find the “First to Fight” Marine Corps indispensable to America’s security.

Despite their odd role, and continual battles against bureaucracy, or possibly precisely because of it, the Marines have always been forced to be innovative in their doctrines as well as rigorous in their training, pioneering amphibious assaults and mobile warfare while maintaining an exceptional degree of readiness and toughness.

There is a lesson here about the disadvantages of winning bureaucratic and political battles and being coddled by the state. And there is certainly a lesson about the importance of justifiably proud military units in the life of civilized societies.

Happy Birthday, Marine Corps.